Burt, veteran RIT seek return to NCAA tournament

Rochester Institute of Technology lost its two top scorers but returns a nucleus that was a goal or two away from returning to the NCAA tournament. The departed duo of Andrew Favot and Tyler Brenner combined for 84 points, including 16 power-play goals. But the next seven top point-getters are back, as well as the entire defense corps and all-league goaltender Shane Madolora.

“Like most of the teams out there, we lost some really big players,” said coach Wayne Wilson. “We’ll need other guys to follow in their footsteps.”

One player looking to do that is senior Cameron Burt, who saw his point production drop from 47 two years ago to 28 last season, including six goals after scoring 29 his first two seasons.

“Burt has been on fire in practice,” said Wilson. “He knows the kind of year he can have and he’s poised to do that.”

Wilson is also pleased with what he’s seen out of a defense that was young last season and took a while to jell.

“They’re light years ahead of where they were last year,” he said. “Guys like [Eliot] Raibl and [Greg] Noyes and [Nolan] Descoteux showed improvement as the season went on, but they’re already way beyond that this season.”

The other starters on the blue line last season are all captains: seniors Chris Haltigin, Daniel Spivak and junior Chris Saracino, who led the league with a plus-26 last season. They’ll be in front of Madolora, who led the nation in save percentage last season (.935). Madolora has two years of eligibility remaining but is a senior academically, so this will be his final season.

Up front, the Tigers are experienced, with seniors Burt, Mark Cornacchia, Scott Knowles and Taylor McReynolds. Junior Adam Hartley and sophomore Adam Mitchell are the top returning goal scorers, with 11 each last year.

RIT’s trip to the Frozen Four two seasons ago is paying dividends in recruiting. Wilson said this year’s incoming class may be his best yet.

“We’re bringing in some good people,” he said. “We had a good freshman class last year and this class is a little further ahead at this point in the season than they were.”

One of the rookies is goaltender Jordan Ruby, who is coming off an excellent year in juniors and was ranked 14th among North American goaltenders by NHL Central Scouting before this year’s draft.

“We’re very deep [in net],” said Wilson. “Shane had a tremendous season and Josh Watson played well against some very good teams. He’ll continue to improve the way Shane did. And Jordan is a competitor who wants the challenge, knowing the guys that are in front of him. He had an outstanding season [in junior hockey] but no promises were made. We’ll probably do what we did last season and give all three a chance and then settle on one or two around Thanksgiving.”

About the Tigers

2010-11 overall record: 19-11-8

2010-11 AHA record: 15-5-7 (first)

2011-12 predicted finish (coaches poll): First

Key losses: Tyler Brenner (F), Andrew Favot (F)

Players to watch: Shane Madolora (sr., G), Cameron Burt (sr., F), Chris Saracino (jr., D)

Impact rookie: Forward Matt Garbowski led the British Columbia Hockey League with 44 goals last season.

Why the Tigers will finish higher than the coaches poll:You can’t finish any higher than first, but the Tigers and Air Force will battle for the best defense in the conference.

Why the Tigers will finish lower than the coaches poll: RIT will be able to stop the puck, but its offense took a hit.